2016 is now the deadliest year in two decades for the city of Chicago. Over Labor Day weekend, Chicago reached its 500th homicide in nine months, nearly surpassing last year’s total. The city has more homicides than New York City and Los Angeles combined, at half the population, and it is on pace for reaching homicide levels not seen since the 1990s, projected to reach 700 murders this year.
This horrific milestone comes largely from the overwhelming numbers of active gang members, where there is an estimated 100,000 gang members in a city with only 16,000 police officers. The average age for gang members is 17 – 23, but some join as young as 13 and 14. However, the most remarkable statistic is there are nearly 82 shootings per week, and in a single week in August, there were eight gun-related homicides and 64 nonfatal shootings. Even more disturbing, this year the longest Chicago has gone without a homicide is three days. Most of these homicides are a result of territory wars between gangs, and the majority are gun-related.
What makes these gangs especially dangerous is that the typical behavior has changed. During previous periods of violence, 20 years ago, the focus was drugs and profit. Now, for example, the stealing of cars is no longer used for expansion the drug trade, “they’re just driving them around and doing shootings,” one federal agent said. No one is off-limits, and in some cases children as young as nine have been targeted in shootings. If a father is a member of a rival gang, his children can become surrogates for his murder. The violence and fear created by these murders gives gangs power, and these gangs strive to obtain respect. Bystanders are also in danger; in one incident a gang was targeting a rival gang member who drove a black Mercedes-Benz — so the gang targeting this individual started shooting at every black Mercedes-Benz they saw. The sheer numbers and destruction of these crimes is staggering, but what is Chicago doing to stop this?
Chicago already has stiff existing gun laws, but in 2010 federal courts ended its ban on handgun ownership and in 2014 ended its ban on gun sales. A New York Times analysis showed that guns are still very easily obtainable in Chicago. Traffickers are able to elude state guns laws by purchasing them in different states and then reselling them where there is demand. In Chicago’s case, these weapons are bought at gun shows in Indiana and then sold on the streets. Guns crossing over states create jurisdictional issues for the police, who are usually understaffed and unable to respond effectively. This leaves citizens feeling that their safety lies solely in their own hands, and they respond to this problem by purchasing their own gun. Jens Ludwig, the director of Crime Lab at the University of Chicago, says “People carry guns in public because other people are carrying guns. It’s literally an arms race, a vicious cycle.” The police need help, they need more resources and manpower and are looking to the mayor for help.
The mayor of Chicago since 2011, Rahm Emanuel, has an interesting background in politics, including being President Barack Obama’s Chief of Staff from 2008 to 2010. The New York Times, says he was “perhaps the most influential chief of staff of a generation,” known for his abusive and disparaging tirades towards the Democratic party. He was elected mayor of Chicago in 2011 and was under fire from the Chicago Teachers Union for allegedly withholding resources from public schools. He has been under plenty of scrutiny for these issues, but he is again facing intense pressure for Chicago’s current murder epidemic.
On September 22, he gave an official statement to the press where he provided his solutions addressing the problems of guns and violence in the city. He gave a point-by-point list of what to do, saying “Gun violence in Chicago is unacceptable.” His plan essentially is to have more mentors, jobs, and police; similar to the plan used to combat crime in New York during the 1990s.
He backed a proposed increase of the police force, adding nearly 1000 officers. The costs of this are expected to exceed $130 million a year, and Emanuel did not comment on how the city, which already has a crippling financial crisis, would pay for it. Along with the addition of the police force, Mayor Emanuel also addressed the root of the problem, jobs and mentors. Pastor Ira Acree of Chicago, a man who has been heavily involved in Chicago politics stated, “if you really want to stop this epidemic of violence, the best way to stop a bullet is with a job.“ Emanuel, although under criticism often, is working on delivering a needed solution, one that the community has been seeking.
In the end of the speech, he spoke directly about the active gangs, especially the young members whom police identify as the ones doing the shootings, and being killed by the shootings. He said, “to have any chance of stopping them from killing each other and the innocent bystanders, we have to stop them from giving up on themselves and their future.” He continued with, “parents and grandparents of this city are raising good kids against great odds, in some cases, though, we have kids growing up without positive role models in their lives, and the danger we face today is that the gangs in the city of Chicago are willing to be that role model; they’re willing to be that mentor; they’re willing to be that family.”
Mayor Emanuel showed his emotions and knowledge in his address to the public, demonstrating his care for the city and the people in it. To enable change in the city, he pledged $36 million of donated and government funds to mentor about 7,200 eighth, ninth, and tenth graders in the city’s most dangerous neighborhoods.
The recent killings of unarmed black men all around the country has put the city on edge. In 2014, the murder of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald by Chicago police contributed to distrust between the citizens and police. The 17-year-old was shot 16 times, and the officer was found guilty of first degree murder. The graphic and disturbing dashboard camera video of the event was released later. As a result of McDonald’s murder, a Police Accountability Task Force was formed; they state that the police “have no regard for the sanctity of life when it comes to people of color.” In an effort to create trust in the community between police officers and citizens, Emanuel has promised more accountability for the police by adding more body cameras, Tasers, and training. By doing this, he hopes to reestablish “critical relationships with the community, especially communities of color.”
To view an interactive map of the people lost in the city of Chicago, click here. With the saddening statistics involving gang-related shootings, fear has taken over the city. The city of Chicago faces its breaking point, with the public divided and the city in terror.